If you’re reading this as a family or friend, you’re probably already aware of how much of an impact travelling has had on me, especially going solo. Regarding how I used to be, I think I said it best in my About page:
“Not only was I chronically shy, lacked confidence and mute around strangers; I was more than happy to live in someone else’s shadow. Socially inept was a phrase often flung about, and my awkwardness knew no bounds.“
Doesn’t sound like someone you’d picture travelling alone, does it? I know, it sounds incredibly dramatic and exaggerated but, I promise you, it was that bad.
Anyway, let’s just say this: solo travel has opened more doors for me than I ever could have imagined, and if I’d waited around for someone to join me, I’d be the same painfully shy person now at twenty two, as I was when I was fifteen.
Now, I know travelling isn’t for everyone, much less travelling solo, but I wholeheartedly believe it’s something that each person should experience at least once in their life.
I didn’t go out there with preconceived ideas that I’d come back a different person. One with a whole new mindset and view on life, an alternative perspective and insight into a completely different world. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
Before my first solo trip, I was scared. Completely and utterly terrified, and I didn’t exactly choose a continent known for its safety; a month volunteer project in Namibia, Africa.
I remember sitting in my lounge at home, staring blankly at the wall wondering what in the world I’d just got myself into. I spent days and nights talking myself out of it and coming up with ridiculous scenarios for the things that could go wrong.
My decision to take the plunge came down to a couple of factors. One, how badly did I really want to go? And two, how much time did I want to waste relying on others to come with me?
Ultimately, these all boiled down to the following question: what made me think I could cross oceans with no one else to rely on, when I could barely go to the shop alone?
To be honest, it was never a slow process of building myself up to this point. Instead it was more of a don’t think, just book it and deal with the consequences later kind of thing, and let me tell you: I felt like a badass.
Which leads me to the main reason for this post; I wanted to give people an insight into solo travel, along with compiling a list of the things I learnt, and those I wish I had been told beforehand.
Things I Wish I Was Told Before Travelling Solo:
- You May Not Always Make Friends, and That’s Okay
- Personal Growth Is Real
- You’ll Be Surprised at What You Learn About Yourself
- You’re Allowed to Stay Inside
- You’ll Get Lonely, But Don’t Worry
- Banish That Comfort Zone
- You’ll Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
- Confidence Will Come and Go
- The First Few Days Are Terrifying
- Be Prepared for Reactions: “You Travelled Solo in Africa?”
- You’ll Get Stressed, and Probably Cry
You May Not Always Make Friends, and That’s Okay
Now, I’m an introvert at heart, so believe me when I tell you that making friends isn’t a walk in the park for me. Before any of my travels, I often go through a loop of ‘what if I don’t make any friends‘ and ‘what if they think I’m weird‘ and ‘how do I even start a conversation‘.
I made amazing friends in some hostels; evenings spent laughing, playing games and drinking with strangers, yet in others, I was barely looked in the eye. Occasionally, you’ll come across the odd hostel where you struggle to meet people; whether they’re there with a partner or friend, or just don’t want to mingle.
You’ll come to realise that there are often other solo travellers lingering around waiting for you to make the first move. The chances of them turning you away are slim to none; everyone stays in hostels because they’re cheap and an easy way to make friends.
On the other hand, they are a hub for various cultures and individuals from around the world. Typically, in the hostels I was alone, I found myself surrounded by those that didn’t speak English, which was okay. By this point, I’d learnt the art of enjoying my own company (see below).
You’ll come across such a mix of people and eventually get so used to reaching out that you’ll never second guess it again. Not only that, but hostels are full of like-minded people that you’ll often connect with off the bat, sharing travel stories and swapping bucket lists.
Personal Growth Is Real
I may have spent some of my time having a meltdown, or melodramatically wishing I’d never left the safety of my bed, but I wouldn’t change any of my experiences for the world.
Things will get hard, and you won’t always know the answer. It’s a pivotal moment when you really realise that you’re the only one looking out for you. That there’s no one else around you to help you with your plans, or to book your next accommodation or look for the best places to eat.
You’ll learn to trust your instincts and know your limits. When everything is under your control and you have no one else to answer to, it’s an incredibly freeing feeling.
That’s all solo travel boils down to, for me. The freedom to come and go as you please, to sleep in or stay up late, to do whatever the hell you want to do without compromises or questions.
I saw and experienced things I never thought I would, and through them, I’ve grown as a person in more ways than one. My confidence and independence have hit the roof, and I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.
I’ve discovered a new love for learning about different cultures and come to realise the things that make me happiest in life are the experiences that money can’t buy.
I’ve been humbled and come to realise my privilege in things I never even considered before, just from driving from town to town in South Africa and Namibia and witnessing the severity of poverty in some areas.
My eyes have been opened to a completely different side of life, and to see how others live in different parts of the world is something I believe everyone should see for themselves. To acknowledge how others find happiness in the little things that aren’t materialistic elements from the Western world.
You’ll Be Surprised at What You Learn About Yourself
Travelling puts you in situations you wouldn’t normally come across, forcing you to deal head on with your immediate reactions. You’ll learn your limits, along with how you cope with stress, anxiety and any other emotion you can think of.
You’ll learn what makes you feel safe and what you don’t feel entirely comfortable in doing, as well as where you feel unsafe staying as a solo traveller. Some people don’t enjoy staying in hostels alone, especially dorm rooms, whereas others – like myself – don’t have a problem with it (when it’s the cheapest option).
Not only will you realise what you’re capable of, you’ll also come across new skills you never had to exercise before, and become more aware of safety when travelling solo. You’ll experience so many new things that you might come home with a new career choice, or a reignited passion for a past hobby, or a determination to meet your goals and live a life different to the 9-5.
You’re Allowed to Stay Inside
Just because you’re travelling, it doesn’t mean you have to be up and out every day. It gets exhausting, and thinking that you aren’t allowed a down day will only grate on your mental health.
We all need a break, and if you wake up one day and it’s raining wherever you are in the world, or you’re feeling tired or down in the dumps, no one will judge you for staying in.
I spent a couple of days alone on my Europe trip, and some of them I only left the hostel to find food. Did I feel guilty for “wasting” a day? Hell yeah, I did. But, I knew I needed a rest, and if there wasn’t anything I really wanted to do or see, why not relax? Especially at the end of a three month plus trip, burning out is real.
There’s nothing wrong with having a chill day and, in fact, I fully endorse this. You wanna sit in and watch your favourite film or read a good book? Go for it. Your trip, your rules; one of the main pros when travelling solo.
You’ll Get Lonely, But Don’t Worry
We know it’s not always sunshine and happy days, but I’ve found that not many people really talk about this. I don’t want to give a false impression of anything, so I’ll be real with you.
I had some bad days and nights in Namibia. Those that leave you seriously wondering what the heck you’re doing, why you’re doing it and ‘what do you think you have to prove’ kind of days.
Some nights were spent frantically attempting to find a single bar of signal in the African Bush, to not feel so disconnected and alone. Some days were spent far too focussed on contacting home whenever I could, to have a sense of familiarity in such a foreign country.
Loneliness is probably the hardest thing you’ll have to deal with when travelling solo, but chances are, there’s someone close by who is feeling exactly the same as you.
Sure, I may have used Karl Pilkington’s ‘Idiot Abroad’ videos to combat these feelings (mostly because I was feeling like an idiot abroad), but I can tell you that making an effort to put yourself out there with strangers is the best cure.
If you’re travelling solo, stay in hostels; it’s impossible not to make friends. Connect with those around you, allow yourself to be open minded, and you’ll be surprised at the gentle souls you attract.
Banish That Comfort Zone
For a lot of people, taking that first step to travelling solo is already outside of their comfort zone. For me, that was the easy part. The thing that was so far out of my metaphorical bubble was opening myself up to the idea of talking to strangers.
I mentioned previously how withdrawn and reserved I used to be, which is one of the main things I had to overcome when travelling. Not only are you in a completely foreign country, you’re also alone, with only yourself to rely on.
Only, you’re not alone when you open yourself up to the idea of talking to locals; sparking conversation with others around you, even when its intimidating and so far from what you want to be doing.
Before leaving on your journey, be prepared to feel uncomfortable. Be prepared to have moments of doubt, moments where you have no idea what you’re doing, and that’s okay – expected even. Allow yourself these moments, but make sure to pick yourself back up and get yourself out there.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone, say yes to the things you’d normally say no to (unless it’s getting into a white van) – you’ll regret it if you don’t.
You’ll Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company
This is something that I personally have never struggled with (sometimes there’s nothing better than sitting alone with a good book in the sun), but I’m aware of how many do.
Eventually, at some point, we all learn to find solace in solitude. It’s when the feelings of loneliness are overtaken by a more positive notion. When you realise how much freedom you’ve granted yourself, and how you can go anywhere at anytime, without having to check in with another first.
Sure, it can seem daunting at first, not having anyone there to talk to all the time. Even when you’re used to it, it’s still nice to have someone to discuss plans or thoughts with.
It’s not something that will happen overnight, but over time you’ll learn to appreciate the quiet moments, those minutes you have to yourself to think and fully take in everything around you.
I know a lot of people have the same question: what about eating alone? I get it, I do. I’ve thought the same thing a time or two, but chances are, no one is paying you any attention, so go out there and do your thing.
Confidence Will Come and Go
I had zero confidence before travelling; zilch, nil, nul, none, nada. Safe to say, after seeing some of the world on my own and having no one to rely on, I’ve gained more of that than I thought I would.
You learn to trust and believe in yourself. When you push yourself to do something, whether it’s approaching a stranger, or dining out alone, you’ll be comfortable in doing it again and again.
Sure, confidence doesn’t come easily, but I’ve found the phrase fake it til you make it to be relevant to this situation. If you walk with purpose and pretend like you know exactly what you’re doing, something in your brain clicks, and it slowly transforms from faking confidence to feeling it.
The First Few Days Are Terrifying
No one ever said it would be easy straight away. It takes some time to get into the hang of things, to get used to being alone and having no one to confer with.
The days leading up to your departure will be overwhelming and scary. I remember having little bursts of excitement in between anxiety induced thoughts on ridiculous scenarios that were extremely unlikely to happen.
Anyone who’s travelled solo will tell you that it’s normal to feel out of your depth at first, and it’s true. You’ll have that devil on your shoulder telling you to get on the first flight back home, tapping you on the forehead asking what on earth you were thinking.
After a few days, you’ll get into the swing of things and start enjoying yourself. Putting pressure on expecting it to be amazing from the start will only lead to false expectations.
Don’t get me wrong though, there are some places you’ll visit that will feel like home straight away; where all anxiety falls away and you feel comfortable and calm, and know you’ll be back again one day.
Be Prepared for Reactions: “You Travelled Solo in Africa?”
One thing I didn’t expect when I came back from my trip in Africa was the shock I was met with when telling people where I’d been. Obviously, I understand it isn’t the safest of places for a solo female traveller but, at the end of the day, all countries and cities have crime and unsafe areas.
If I based my travels on where was safe, I’d be limiting myself on a very small amount of destinations. It’s more about learning to trust your gut and instincts. Knowing where the unsafe areas are and steering clear. Making sure to not walk alone at night and always letting someone know where you are (in fact, I’ll be writing a separate post on keeping safe as a solo female traveller).
You’ll Get Stressed, and Probably Cry
No shame, I absolutely cried a time or two when I was on my own in Europe and Africa. I didn’t make it a habit, but sometimes all you can do is let it out and be met with a clear head on the other side.
Stress and, at times loneliness, were the main factors in my blubbing sessions. Situations don’t always turn out as planned or things go wrong and everything builds up and becomes this overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
We’ve all been there, and it’s absolutely okay to let it out in the only way we know how. When you’re the only one responsible for yourself without a familiar face nearby to lend a hand and you have to rely on the kindness of strangers, it’s taxing and incredibly stressful.
These are the moments you’ll look back on and realise how you came out stronger on the other side; pushing through the negative feelings and making the best of a bad situation.
I’ll often think about the times I spent overwhelmed and up to my eyeballs in stress in a foreign country and have to laugh, which is empowering in itself. They’re the main moments of growth on your journey, the ones that you learn from and come out stronger because of.
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